Wandering In Caye Caulker, Belize
When we arrived on the island of Caye Caulker, Belize, I needed a vacation. I was in the midst of uprooting my current life, trying to separate the seeds of what I wanted next from the dirt surrounding them. And man, was there a lot of dirt.
So, it seemed fitting to go somewhere where there wasn't dirt but sand. Sparkling white sand, pure as snow, stretching out before me like a blank slate I could wiggle my toes into.
For those unfamiliar, Caye Caulker is a small spit of land off the coast of the Central American country Belize. But, don't let it's humble size fool you. It has a personality all its own; one that is refreshingly absent of big resorts, North American brands and the cookie-cutter feeling many nearby islands get scrubbed with.
Boyfriend and I spent several blissful days on the island, which is culturally and physically halfway between Central America and the Caribbean. We dived in crystal waters, relaxed under palm trees on perfectly un-manicured beaches and ate leisurely meals in the warm breeze.
[Above: 1) A dock and quiet bit of beach on the local's side of the island. 2) Front street during 'rush hour' 3) A glass of sangria and an ocean view]
The motto of Caye Caulker is 'Go Slow', which I originally didn't understand. When we were planning the trip, businesses didn't get back to my emails for days, and people were hesitant to set up firm times for things. In the harsh, forced air of my work cubicle this seemed deeply unprofessional. But, once I arrived in the soft, salty heat of the island I understood.
It turned out 'Go Slow' wasn't just some cheesy catchphrase from a brochure.
It was a mantra of sorts, one I heard from servers, people on the street, and even a bartender or two (who added that this philosophy doesn't apply to beverages!).
I slipped into the new pace easily, drinking leisurely glasses of sangria, browsing the boutiques on the island, and simply dangling my feet in the sea and watching the horizon. Each afternoon was whiled away easily with fresh coconuts to snack on, new friends to chat with and time to reflect.
I had worried before I arrived that I'd go crazy without lots of activities, but this couldn't have been farther from the truth. For the first time in forever, I wasn't zombie-level exhausted.
If you're thinking of recharging you batteries, too, I'd suggest a leisurely breakfast at Caribbean Colors Art Cafe, where I had the fluffiest pancakes ever, topped with mountains of fresh mangos. Their coffee is also amazing- the strong, bold taste I'd hoped to experience in this part of the world.
Then, take the rest of the day to wander the island, exploring shops on the tourist-centric front street and local life and almost untouched beaches on back street. It'll give you a glimpse into all sides of Caye Caulker. Then, I'd suggest going to a small food stall for lunch to try food the locals eat: Small tostadas fried until crisp and golden, rolled tacos, and fries bathed in hot sauce.
For dinner, try Pasta Per Caso, an Italian place run by a husband and wife team of expats. Everything's fresh and seasonal there and it's some of the best food on the island. Come early, though, as the tiny eating area sits less than 20 and lines can be long!
[Above: 1) The dock area where I had my first scuba diving lesson, 2) The beaches on Front Street, 3) The best cafe mocha I've ever had, at Caribbean Colors Art Cafe]
But, I'd be lying if I said all I did was rest, relax, journal and do my own Caribbean twist on Eat, Pray, Love.
Aside from lovely beaches and the ability to make even the most chronic workaholic stop in her tracks, Caye Caulker boasts something else incredible: Amazing diving. I'd never scuba dived before coming here as an irrational fear of sharks and deep waters made me feel too cowardly. But, when I found out that Caye Caulker rested above the largest barrier reef in the northern hemisphere, I knew I'd have to face my fear.
On our first dive, I floated just under the water's surface. My mouth was dry from the sharp oxygen flowing through my mouthpiece. Or was it from fear? As someone terribly afraid of heights, sinking 60 feet into the deep was unimaginable.
Eventually, I made it- kicking and breathing slowly. My tongue began to feel less like sandpaper. My feet touched the sand, the same sand which had been coating the soles of my feet since I arrived on the island. Smiling so wide I almost lost my mouthpiece, I felt the bottom of the sea through my flippers. It was just as white and pure as the beaches.
If you go to Caye Caulker, you owe it to yourself to go diving. There are a few different companies you can go with, and prices vary widely amongst them. Since Boyfriend and I wanted to get certified as divers, we completed a course though Belize Diving Services (it was expensive but the experience was so incredible I recommend it!).
There's also lots of boat tours and snorkelling available to give you options for when your feet get restless.
[Above: 1) An empty beach on the back of the island 2)My fav cafe and breakfast spot on the island 3) A side street on Caye Caulker]
For me, the mix of diving trips for half the day and lazing around for half the day proved to be the perfect blend of vacation and adventure. Another spot on the island I loved? A surprisingly chic place called The Bondi Bar. It offers delicious, frosty cocktails and great service. Once a week (ish) they have a movie under the stars, which I really enjoyed.
And, for those looking for dancing, outdoor games and a bit of recklessness, there's the infamous Lazy Lizard. Located on the island's edge, the towering, airy bar has thundering dance music, cheap drinks and even a spot to float in the water while you wait for your nachos.
[Above: 1) Caught in the rain on a swing over the sea at a Caye Caulker restaurant, 2) Popular Italian eatery Pasta Par Caso was so good we went there 3 times! 3) Fresh, creamy pasta and dry white wine at Pasta Par Caso]
When the time came to move on to the next part of our Belizean vacation I had a hard time saying goodbye to this small slice of paradise.
Sitting in the water taxi, waiting to go back to the mainland, I brushed the white sand off the bottom of my feet one last time.
Even though it no longer unfurled in front of me in an underwater odyssey or a perfect beachfront, I knew I was taking the clean slate with me. I knew I was going to be ok and be able to build the life I want.
I decided not to shake the white sand out of my shoes, in case I needed a reminder. But, I'm glad to say, I haven't forgotten the feeling yet.